It is character building, this thing called public transit. It is economical, environmentally friendly, efficient, and even communal. Then there is Roma!
Mass transit in the Eternal City demands a definition of terms. Here we go:
1. Bus=Sometimes new, but usually an ancient device that threads triple parked vialle, via and vicolo with inches to spare. Every bolt and fastener on this Metro Moving Monster are slightly loose, causing a cacophony over the potholed San Pietrini Streets that will make your teeth tremble and your ears bleed.
2. Entrance and Exit=Usually there are entrances at the front and back of this animal with a sole exit in the center. The designed boasts ease and efficiency when getting on or off the bus. In Rome, THEY DO THE EXACT OPPOSITE!
- People exiting properly can’t because of the impatient anarchists trying to board.
- People entering can’t because previous riders have camped at the doorway, preparing for their illegal exit out of that entrance. Make no mistake. The bus is usually empty in the center and there are available seats. But, even though the desired “exit from the entrance” is 11 stops and 30 minutes away, pompous patrons will camp out and block the door with a siege mentality worthy of Caesar.
- Ticket=You are supposed to have a ticket. No one does. You are supposed to stamp the ticket in the machine located IN THE CENTER of the bus since Roma has yielded to the anti-entrance shake-and-bake. Those who have a ticket and try must part the sea of stubborn occupants who give no ground to anyone who wants to share what they believe to be their private limo. If the honest traveler makes it to the stamping machine, they will discover it is not working. The machine also takes coins for those wishing to buy a ticket but never has “change” or is non-functioning as well. AND NO ONE EVER ASKS YOU FOR YOUR TICKET. If an occasional bus-ticket-thingie-checkercomes on, they go right for well-dressed riders or tourists. They know the gypsies, homeless and thieves have no ticket. Why bother them?
3. Driver=Sealed in an anti-social fishbowl, this operator takes no money, has no tickets, answers no questions (unless you scream through the glass), and has no interest in who enters, exits, has a ticket, picks your pocket, cooks a goat…you get my drift? In their defense, drivers must navigate the chaos that is Rome. Stop lights are merely suggestions. Round-abouts are a game of “chicken”. Parking is total anarchy leaving the aforementioned needle of passage to be threaded by the operator. They need to focus on the outside. To Hell with the carnage on the inside.
4. Passengers=Good scouts who try to do the right thing. Tourists who are legitimately lost amidst the illogical landscape. Thieves who have easy pickings among the confused, inebriated, and unvigilant. And the rest of us. We jump on with no ticket (mea culpa that’s me), squeeze in, go into mental hibernation, and hope for the best meaning:
- the bus-ticket-thingie-checker ain’t coming
- I still have my wallet
- there is no parade, strike or moron blocking the street
5. Routes=Even with GPS signs at some stops the schedule and routine is a bit of a movable feast. Holidays, demonstrations, construction, and general daily issues of “Nonna” blocking the boulevard with her Fiat 500 while she picks up some bread AND HAS A CHAT WITH THE BAKER keep things unpredictable. Be patient. For most of us, it’s a free ride anyway.
There are too many stories to share in this mass transit missive. But, if you“traveled” this far, here are my top 3:
#3. Verbal Noise Nuisance
Believe it or not, in spite of the mechanical Mount Vesuvius, the busses are usually quiet in terms of homo sapiens antics. People are emersed in their phones or devices. Many, like me, go into a mantra, “Let me live, not get sick, not kill this idiot next to me…”. But, the exceptions are glaring and blaring. The Roman Woman who is hard of hearing, having an argument with her maid as to how to run the washing machine…this goes on the entire trip. And my favorite, the LOUD Americans, who don’t know they are noisy, talking about:
He like said like that he like liked me
OMG. Like really like liked you?
Dunno. He like said he was a Car Bin Air ee or like sumthing.
That’s like a police dude I think.
#2. Take Time to Puke
The bus is packed. Suddenly, all the passengers yell for the driver to pull over. Some emergency. He stops on a very busy street and opens the center exit door. A young girl calmly leans out and barfs beautifully. No heaving, noise or doubled over groaning. Just a lovely yellow spew of yuck. She does not exit but waits to see if she has completed the process. The driver is yelling for updates. Everyone except me is telling him to wait and be patient. I am asking myself, “How can these people tolerate someone who doesn’t have the common sense to get off the bus, deal with her issues, let us get on our way, and catch another one herself”? She makes one more brief withdrawal and rests in a seat that has been meticulously prepared for her. Then it dawns on me, “They are more concerned with the health and comfort of a girl than they are about being on time or inconvenienced or late or angry or incredulous or…”
#1. Taking “Out” Nonna
As I explained before, people go in the out and out the in. So here I am, on a packed express bus. We are talking noses frescoed to the windows packed. I am tattooed to the exit door, waiting to be spewed out at the next stop by the7,354 fellow riders who want get out here as well. All should be well and relief is just a door-opening away. They part and there she is, a Nonna resembling Alex Karass. She is big, broad, bag heavy in both hands, and ready to board through the exit like she always does. 7,354 people be damned.
Nose to nose with her for that brief second, I executed my only option. Pow. She goes flying with her bags as I give her the old linebacker block. The 7,354 mobexit and score escape after I clear the field. I am expecting torment, lectures, insults, retaliation, even arrest. But, they quietly shuffle by. Some smile. A few wink at me. One guy says, Bravo. I did what so many of them always wanted to.
Nonna adjusts herself, picks up her bags, then glares at me. Uh Oh. Here it comes. That rock of a face cracks a smile as she says, “Buon Giorno”. The true meaning was, “Hey, nice shot”. And she still has time to make her entrance through the exit.
All’s fair in love and Mass Transit.